Wednesday, April 1, 2015


An action scene with all the adrenaline of a bake sale.
There must still be a little bit of life left in the cinematic adaptation market for old toys from the 1980s, right? If they brought Battleship to the big screen, surely they’ve got room for Remco’s bulky Mantech figures, and the source material as expounded upon in the Archie Comics miniseries of the same name.

ManTech (subtitled “Robot Warriors,” although a tremendous misunderstanding of what constitutes a “robot” is at play in this tale) ran a leisurely four issues from September of 1984 through May of the following year, and followed the adventures of three ancient astronauts from the planet Earth who’d been rescued from suspended animation and turned into enormous blenders.

The heroic ManTechs were LaserTech (formerly Lt. ”Laser Ray” Larson, laser enthusiast), AquaTech (Cliff Stone, deep sea diver) and their leader, Solartech (Colonel Solomon Sun, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and war criminal – his chief accomplishment to date was squashing a colonial revolt on Jupiter). Discovered in an ancient tomb on the planet Mekka by one-time best buddies Jaxon Goode and his ominously named tagalong Tyranik, the men who were to become ManTechs were melded with robotic bodies in order to save their lives and revive them from their failing life support systems. Basically, in order to live, they had to become toaster ovens.

ManTech beat poetry.

Tyranik, living up to nominative destiny, takes the same technology to create evil counterparts to the ManTechs – MegaTech, DoomTech and TerrorTech. The end result of this is a book which makes you really tired of the word “Tech.” Every panel on every page is like “Aquatech, SolarTech, look out for DoomTech and TerrorTech, NegaTech is sending TechTech to the TechDome to Tech the Tech Techerson Tech Techy Tech.” While the bad guys later add “OctoBot” (a robotic OctoMom, I presume) and Tyranik’s good-hearted sister Ravenna to the roster, they still never miss a chance to say “Tech.”

The lead characters of ManTech shared a particular super-power in common with their plastic counterparts, namely that their limbs could pop off and be replaced as needed. Only in the 1980s could “shoddy workmanship” be passed off as a feature. Technically, the figures could exchange parts of their body and armaments with each other, although the comic book ManTechs rarely did that because it was probably uncomfortably intimate.

Which is actually a point worth addressing. I know it’s a tired stereotype that superhero comics have homoerotic underpinnings, but it’s actually true that ManTech bristles with an aggressive sort of erotic machismo. The muscular male heroes are constantly sniping at each other in a manner which I can only fairly describe as catty sexual frustration. Later, when Aquatech leaves the ManTechs, his teammates respond with an over-emotional sense of betrayal that’s only possible when love is involved. In a way, this is the greatest romance in comics, and it’s between three men who are basically microwave ovens from the neck down.

Ah, shitty pieces of useless plastic. Our childhoods were wonderful.

Another thing worth mentioning about the ManTech universe is that it really has it in for knowledge. It’s knowledge alone that drives Tyranik mad with power, and forbidden knowledge of warfare possessed by Mekka “Guild of Scholars” which leads to the creation of a computer tyrant and the end of the virtual paradise which the planet once possessed. Learning is bad, kids, and that’s one to grow on!

By the fourth issue, I strongly suspect that Remco had run out of backstory to provide the folks at Archie, as ManTech takes a phenomenally weird turn. Explorers from Earth find Mekka and the three ‘borged-up astronauts, all three of whom live on as legends sung about in “space pubs” (Chains, every one of ‘em, I assume. Space Bennigans, Space Applebees, TGISpace Friday’s …). Before long, the explorers reveal themselves as air pirates, roving marauders who steal the atmospheres from livable planets to sell on a now-horribly polluted Earth. In other words, the book ends with Earth as the bad guys. The whole planet, bad guys, across the board. That’ll be a hard sell in the studio, but I’m sure we can get Michael Bay behind it if we let him know that the story is pre-stupified for him.

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